In an attempt to get to the heart of the matter I looked up the definition of conflict-of-interest on duhaime.org legal resource. According to them, a conflict-of-interest is defined as:
“A personal interest that conflicts with a public or fiduciary interest.”
In other words, if then-Councilor Rob Ford had a conflict-of-interest, Rob Ford had to have had a personal interest that would have interfered with the public responsibilities he was sworn to uphold, to the City of Toronto and the constituents of Ward 2.
With this definition in mind, let’s examine this case step-by-step from the beginning. It all started when Ford solicited donations on official letterhead for the Rob Ford Football Charity, which resulted in $3,100 being received by the charity. The first problem for his accusers is that the money solicited came from private not government sources. Second, the money flowed to a charity, not to him. It’s hard to see what personal interest, besides the benign one of charity, this benefited. Third, it is hard to see how the interests of the Rob Ford Football Charity would conflict with the interests of the City or Ford’s voters.
Then there is the matter of him soliciting funds using his official Council stationary. The problem, of course, is not the cost of the stationary, which is trivial. The problem with using the stationary is presumably that he might have been using the powers of his office to ‘bully’ individuals into giving donations that they otherwise would have foregone. Given that he was a high-profile councilor and that the charity was named after him, it is hard to see how the deciding factor in the mind of the donor was the letterhead flagging Rob Ford as a councilor. Does the Integrity Commissioner believe that those donors would have been oblivious to Ford’s elected position without seeing the letterhead?
I agree that as a general principle elected officials shouldn’t use official letterhead for personal matters, but I don’t see what harm this caused the City’s interest in this particular case.
Keep in mind we are talking about the councilor who regularly refused to charge his office expenses to the city (costing him roughly $30K or more per year) and reportedly gave over $50K of his own money to the same charity.
Second, we have the Integrity Commissioner’s ruling. Given:
a) the benign nature of Rob Ford’s transgression, and
b) the fact that the ‘payback’ really constituted a fine, given that the donations never flowed to him in the first place,
I think an impartial observer might be forgiven for believing that the Integrity Commissioner over-reached in this decision.
Third, we have the vote in the council where he voted on the matter of overturning the Integrity Commissioner’s ruling. Again, on general principles, I agree that councilors should not be allowed vote on matters that affect them personally, but given the fact that there doesn’t appear to be any harm done by the originating act, I don’t see what harm this particular vote of his did. An interesting question I have not found an answer to in any newspaper account is, did Rob Ford’s vote affect the outcome of the motion? In other words, would the outcome of the motion have been a tie without Ford’s vote? I don’t know the answer to this question, but I am willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that if it had, the papers would have highlighted this significant fact. Therefore, it is highly likely that the motion would have passed without Ford’s personal vote, perhaps because most councilors had come to the same opinion on the Integrity Commissioner’s verdict as I have.
In summary, Rob Ford may be guilty of several procedural offences designed to prevent conflicts-of-interest. However, given that no private interests can be found that are in conflict with Ford’s public interest, who cares?
I am a strong believer that laws should be interpreted through the filter of common sense. For instance, when the MPP’s in Queen’s park voted to pass into law the “automatic removal from office” clause in the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, what did they have in mind? people selling favours such as zoning exemptions for campaign contributions, or people raising money for charity using city stationary?
When we prosecute people for procedural matters when the crimes the procedures are designed to prevent never occurred in the first place, the justice system is engaging in tyrannical behaviour.